Rights groups are calling on Zimbabwe authorities to drop charges against a prominent journalist and two senior opposition members accused of "peddling falsehoods," saying the charges against the three are part of the government's efforts to stifle critics.
Journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, was denied bail Thursday by Harare Magistrate Lanzini Ncube, who said Chin'ono had a high chance of skipping the country or committing more offenses.
Paidamoyo Saurombe — from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the organization representing Chin'ono and the two opposition politicians — has a different point of view.
"It is our considered view that Mr. Chin'ono is not a convicted criminal, he has not been convicted of any crime in the past and hence to say he has a propensity to commit other offenses whilst on bail would be a gross misdirection on the part of the court," he said.
Saurombe says his client will appeal to the High Court to overturn the magistrate's ruling.
Decisions on bail for opposition leaders Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere will be made Friday.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights says the charge of "peddling falsehoods" was removed from Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court in 2014.
Robert Shivambu, spokesman for Amnesty International in southern Africa, is urging the government to drop the charges, which he says are part of a crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights activists, journalists and any voices critical of the government.
"It is consistent with the harassment and intimidation that we have seen against anyone who respects human rights transparency and accountability in Zimbabwe in recent past," Shivambu said. "The government must stop treating dissent as enemies of the state and allow human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, to thrive in Zimbabwe."
When asked for a comment, Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe's information secretary, said, "The decision on who is prosecuted and who is not rests with the prosecutor general in Zimbabwe (Kumbirai Hodzi). Our constitution is clear that that decision by the country's prosecutor general should not be influenced by anybody. In this particular case, one can actually infer that Amnesty International is interfering with the justice delivery system in Zimbabwe, which is wrong."
The three defendants — Chin'ono, Mahere and Sikhala — were arrested for commenting on a video in which citizens accused police officers of fatally assaulting a baby, who was on her mother's back.
Police later issued a statement saying neither the mother nor the baby were assaulted.